Little evidence to support the efficacy of more gun control

Little evidence to support the efficacy of more gun control
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Gun control advocates seem willing to latch onto anything they can use to justify more stringent laws. They were at it again in the wake of the recent Santa Fe High School shooting. In the New York Times last Thursday, Nicholas Kristof pushed for 10 supposedly “modest” gun control measures.

Everyone wants to do something to stop mass public shootings. And Kristof is right that fewer school doors aren’t the solution. Schools have as many entrances as they do for a reason (such as escaping fires). One door with a metal detector doesn’t mean much if the guard is the first person killed, and lining up a large number of students at one entrance creates an attractive target for killers to attack there.

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But we also have to be careful that the gun control laws primarily disarm criminals, not law-abiding citizens. There has to be reasonable evidence that the regulations reduce crime. Let’s take a look at these proposals.

 

Universal background checks

Two points supposedly support background checks on private transfers of guns. A survey showing that 22 percent of U.S. guns obtained in the last two years were acquired without a background check. But this is mainly a result of inheritances (presumably, mainly within families) and, to a lesser extent, gifts. No evidence is provided that guns acquired through inheritance are commonly used in crime. The survey claims that 16 percent of people bought a gun at a store without undergoing a background check, but this is illegal everywhere in the U.S. It is not a credible claim.

Other surveys show 90 percent of people support these checks. But when these laws were put on the ballots in Nevada and Maine in 2016, they had a hard time breaking 50 percent, despite Michael Bloomberg massively outspending his opponents by 3-to-1 or 6-to-1 margins.

Closing the Charleston Loophole

The shooter who killed nine people at the Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015 was supposedly only able to buy a gun because his background check wasn’t completed within three days. But giving the government more time to complete the background check wouldn’t have made any difference. The killer had been charged recently with illegal drug possession, but never convicted. Being charged with a felony that could result in a prison term of at least two years makes a person ineligible to buy a gun. Yet, the killer was arrested for a misdemeanor drug possession, not a felony, so he faced a maximum prison time of six months.

One problem is incredibly high error rate in the background check system. The vast majority of the people that it stops are stopped mistakenly. Instead of stopping actual felons, it almost always stops people who have similar names to felons. And background checks aren’t cheap. Indeed, they prevent poor people from getting the guns that they need to defend themselves and their families.

Red flag laws

This law would allow people’s guns to be taken away without even the hearing before a judge, something that most states currently require. When people “really” pose a clear danger to themselves or others, they should be confined to a mental health facility. Denying them the right to legally buy a gun isn't a serious response. People can get guns in other ways, and just about as easily as they can buy illegal drugs. And if someone is really a danger, why only take away their guns? Why not also take away other items that can be used as weapons, such as their cars?

Taking guns out of the hands of accused domestic abusers

People convicted of either misdemeanor or felony domestic violence already lose the right to own a gun for the rest of their lives. Men can already do a lot of harm without a gun. Taking away men’s guns based on just an accusation creates a real incentive for misuse. The people who should have guns in these situations are Women, who tend to be weaker physically than men.

Safe storage gun laws

Kristof points to evidence that most people don’t lock up their guns. He believes that requiring individuals to lock up their guns will reduce accidental child gun deaths and teenage suicides. The CDC claims that from 2006 to 2015, an average of 59 children under the age of 15 died annually from accidental gunshots.

According to my research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics and elsewhere, accidental gun deaths and suicides among these young people didn’t change.

Gunlock laws in certain states have made it more difficult for people to successfully defend their families. Such laws emboldened criminals to attack more people in their homes; there were 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes occurring each year in the states with these laws. Burglaries also rose dramatically.

Make serial numbers harder to file off

In fact, it is easy to recover a filed-off gun serial number. The original stamping of the serial number alters the metal under the numbers, and can be read. So gun control advocates want "microstamping," where the firing pin in a gun “stamps” each shell casing with a traceable mark. But no one has actually figured out how to do this, and such a firing pin could easily be modified.

The last four proposals are to require “smart guns,” “train carefully selected members of the community — trusted insiders — to anticipate where violence may occur and intervene before it erupts,” one-gun-a-month limits, and an Australian gun buyback. But the evidence doesn’t really support any of these initiatives. For example, smart guns are costly and not reliable. Or, firearm homicides and suicides in Australia were already falling for 15 years prior to the buyback, and fell at a slower rate after the buyback.

Gun control advocates are used to getting their way without having to address the stronger arguments made against their proposals. That doesn’t create a productive dialogue, and it doesn’t help us figure out what laws will actually save the most lives.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author more recently of “The War on Guns.”